- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

NEW YORK United Nations officials say they will consider adding more Arabs to the weapons inspection teams for Iraq meeting a request from the Arab League provided suitable candidates can be found.

The decision comes with the chief U.N. weapons inspectors leaving tonight for Cyprus on the way to Baghdad to begin preparations Monday for the first inspections in four years.

Arab League chief Amr Mousa formally asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to add more Arabs to the teams after a meeting in Cairo last weekend in which the group urged Iraq to cooperate with inspections. The appeal has been seconded by Arab leaders.

There are now fewer than a dozen Arabs among the 500 technical experts eligible for duty in Iraq, according to U.N. officials. The reason, according to both inspectors and Arab diplomats, is that very few candidates have been put forward by the Arab world.

"I think with the exception of Jordan, no other country has sent applications," said Syria's deputy U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad. "You know how sensitive this issue is, for Arab countries to inspect another."

He said Arab governments have few candidates with the requisite experience in chemical and biological weapons and related specialties.

But, Mr. Mekdad said, now that the Arab League has accepted a Security Council resolution governing new inspections, it is only right to have more Arabs on the teams.

Mr. Mekdad raised the point on Wednesday with Hans Blix, the chief of the U.N. office charged with finding and destroying Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs.

Spokesman Ewen Buchanan said the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic) could convene another training course in January for new recruits, which could presumably include more Arabs.

"All I can say is, unfortunately, we haven't had that many Arab candidates sent to us," he said, and prospective inspectors will be judged first by their experience and education and integrity, and then by geography.

He said that Unmovic currently has seven Arabs, most of them Jordanian, among its 301 potential inspectors.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency expects that three of its initial dozen inspectors will be of Arab background: one Egyptian and two Lebanese.

In addition, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming pointed out, the organization's director general, Mohamed El Baredei, is Egyptian.

"He is the one who will receive the reports, who will make the decision of what is reported to the Security Council, who will talk to the Iraqis and will go on Al Jazeera," she said. "I think our organization in that sense cannot be accused of imbalance."

The IAEA, Ms. Fleming said, "has always considered it important to have people with Arabic on the team, for reasons of language, culture and also balance."

She said the IAEA had a easier time finding qualified candidates than Unmovic because more than 130 nations have some form of nuclear capability, including power plants, agricultural and medicinal uses.

U.S. officials, who are watching every aspect of the Iraq inspections with intense interest, said they had no problem with an increased Arab presence as long as new inspectors were highly qualified.

"We want the inspection teams to be as strong as they can be, but say the makeup has been left up to Dr. Blix," said one U.S. official. "We've always said we want the most experienced and professional members, and we expect and believe that Dr. Blix will abide by the highest professional standards possible."

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